Judging a Book by its Cover

Image Credit:- 

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated. Some images created in Book Brush using Pixabay images.

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

I’m starting a new three-part Chandler’s Ford Today series this week called Judging a Book by its Cover. Hope you enjoy it. A huge thank you to my guest authors for taking part and for supplying their author photos and book cover images.

Tonight’s guests are from the Association of Christian Writers – Fran Hill, Joy Margetts, Ruth Leigh, Wendy H Jones, Maressa Mortimer and I all contribute to this week’s edition.

Images of me reading at Open Prose Mic Nights were taken by Geoff Parkes (Swanwick) and Dawn Kentish Knox (Bridge House Publishing events) and Ana Coelho (Waterloo Arts Festival events).

Hope you have had a good week. Will have publication news from CafeLit next week and am looking forward to sharing that.

And it seems to have finally stopped snowing…. not before time it must be said.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

Delighted to share Part 1 of a brand new series for Chandler’s Ford Today called Judging a Book By Its Cover. Over the next three weeks, I set my guests three questions to answer and they have shared some fabulous information with me. I start the series by having a look at the cover for my own Tripping the Flash Fantastic and then go on to chat to my guests who this week are from the Association of Christian Writers.

I chat to Wendy H Jones, Fran Hill, Maressa Mortimer, Ruth Leigh, and Joy Margetts about what they think their latest book covers “say” to their potential readers. They also share a tip about book covers they have found works for them. I also set a challenge at the end of this post. Anyone who loves reading will be well up for this!

So then – judging a book by its cover – the old proverb says we shouldn’t but for books themselves we absolutely do and rightly so! Covers are a vital element. They are your book’s first advert and have to draw the reader in. So what works for you when you’re choosing your next read? Comments welcome here and over on the CFT post as usual.

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Hope you have had a good Thursday. Had my hair cut yesterday! What a wonderful feeling… and I no longer have a fringe that needed holding back with industrial strength hairspray.

Today I was back in the swimming pool for the first time in well since goodness knows when. For some reason I’m feeling rather tired this evening! But it is great things are slowly returning to normal and I am looking forward to having my second jab in June. That is something I never expected to say! It is an odd world when vaccinations are something you anticipate keenly…

Glad to say Part 1 of my new Chandler’s Ford Today series, Judging a Book by Its Cover, starts tomorrow. Guest authors and I look at some of our covers, analyse what we think they say to potential readers, and share tips on what makes for a good cover. Link up tomorrow and a huge thank you to all taking part in this three-part series. Tomorrow’s guests will be from the Association of Christian Writers. More details tomorrow. See above!

I was chatting over at #Val’sBookBundle earlier about the joy of audio books but what I am greatly encouraged by is that there is a format to suit everyone when it comes to stories. I can think of family members who won’t read a huge book but will watch the film adaptation of it or listen to the audio book of it.

I like to mix up reading “proper” books and ebooks. The Kindle is a great invention. I’m looking forward to taking that with me once again when I hopefully get back to the #SwanwickWriters’SummerSchool in August. I want to save room in my case for the books I’ll buy from the Swanwick Book Room after all!

But what matters is you read, no matter whether you use an e-reader or go for a good old hardback or listen to your stories. It is difficult to overestimate how much reading helps a writer. And you do learn by absorption how books are set out, how dialogue should be and so on, as well as being inspired by the characters you read.

As for my own stories, I try to think about the impact I want my tales to have on a reader and then work out ways of achieving that. As you know, the story for me is all about the characters and they’ve got to interest me to make me want to read on.

So when it comes to editing my own work, I do ask “what is in this for a reader to enjoy?”. It is a valid question.

By putting yourself in your readers’ shoes, you are more likely to write something they will enjoy. You will be thinking about how your character comes across. What is it about them that makes you love or hate them? If you feel that way about them, your readers are likely to do so too.

And it is a useful way, when editing, of ensuring that everything in your story matters to the story and your readers have to know what you are sharing with them. No matter what the length of your story is – 100 to 100,000 words – every word must move the story on and share something important with the reader.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Putting a collection together is interesting in that several things have to be taken into consideration. I’m looking for the right balance in my stories in terms of mood but also in terms of story length. I have more drabbles (aka 100-word) stories in From Light to Dark and Back Again then I do in Tripping the Flash Fantastic. But in the latter I have more of the longer (500 word+) tales and I have taken my characters that bit further as I’ve written historical flash stories for the first time for this book.

I also like to make sure I have “light relief” stories in my collections so they are not overly dark but I also want some of the darker material to ensure there is a bit of “bite” to my books. I am fond of twist in the tale stories and there are plenty of examples in both of my books but I didn’t want either volume to be dominated by them.

I am also thinking of my audience as I get a book ready for submission. (I aim at YA upwards, anyone who can appreciate irony since that does feature in what I do). I want to give a good mixture of stories so people hopefully feel they have had a a darned good read after finishing the books OR it is the perfect thing for them to dip into. (I love “dipping in” books myself).

But overall I want the books to be a good representation of what flash fiction is and can be. And that’s always a great challenge to rise to!

I don’t always name my characters. Sometimes this is because I feel they will be more scary left unnamed (and this is especially true for my stories where the character is an “it”. You can have a lot of fun wondering just what the “it” is!).

What matters more to me is conveying what those characters are like and why their story matters. For example, in my story The Silence (Tripping the Flash Fantastic) I start by saying “It was the perfect way to shut up Mr Know-it-all.”
You don’t need a name there. What you have got is the attitude of the narrator and the attitude of the unnamed character being referred to as there has to be a reason why our storyteller is referring to him like that. Hopefully that would make you want to read on, if only to find out what the perfect way was and was it as perfect as our narrator is claiming?

Where I do name a character, it can indicate they’re not of this world, or I will pick a name like Mary or Ben and get something extraordinary to occur. Most of us will know people called Mary or Ben. We can conjure up in our own minds what a fictional Mary or Ben might be like – and I can then get to turn the tables on said characters. All great fun!

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Twist endings work well for flash fiction, as do “punchlines”, but everything in the story must lead naturally to that point. This is why for this kind of tale, I write the ending first and then spend some time working out ideas that could have led to that point arising naturally. I then go for the one I like the most as that will be the one which has “grabbed” me and hopefully, later, will “grab” a reader too (in the nicest possible way of course!).

I’ve used spider diagrams for working out different possibilities though a simple flowchart works just as well. (All those years ago when I was working on flowcharts in Maths etc., I never dreamed I would end up one day using them for storytelling but there you go!).

But it does pay to take time out to work out different possibilities. Especially if you are entering a competition, the same ideas will come up time and again but it is your take on them that can make your story stand out and give it more of a chance. Writing down various ideas will help you whittle out and discard the weaker ones.

I’ve also found in jotting down ideas, other ideas come to mind as well. It is almost as if you’re unlocking your imagination here and it will be the ideas that come from that which are most likely to be the strongest ones to go with.

Fairytales With Bite – Magical Hierarchies

There are hierarchies in any created fictional world but I think it is fair to say with magical ones, the sparks could really fly!

So how do you judge who should be the most powerful beings? Who can hold them to account or do they rule over everything and their reign is a tyranny?

If that is the case, there has to be someone or something that can bring deliverance (or at least the hope of it) to the rest of the population, otherwise you have no story. There has to be conflict and resolution.

If you are reading a story where the majority are “subjected”, what we as readers want to find out is whether anything or anyone can free them from that and usher in a better age/better way of governing. (Let’s just say I was relieved Sauron didn’t win in The Lord of the Rings and I refuse to believe that’s a spoiler after all this time).

You could, of course, have two equally powerful magical species and they act as a check on each other but stories here could arise from when those checks go wrong. What happens? Can things be put right so the balance is right again? Who does this and so? Have you got anyone prepared to rebel against their own side if necessary?

Give some thought also as to how those hierarchies develop and what sustains them or breaks them. Conflict, consequences, resolution – the three golden ingredients for any good story.

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This World and Others – Where Magic Fits Into the Non-Magical Elements

Is there anything in your created world where the magical elements are controlled by non-magical ones? If so, how and who is doing the controlling? (That’s always interesting to know!). Can politics be used to control those with powers who, if let loose, could destroy everything?

(One aspect I love about Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is how the wizards are far more fond of big dinners than magic and the Patrician knows this. Do check out Sourcery in this series for what happened when magic did take over Ankh-Morpork. It’s a great tale and an interesting study in magic not being the be all and end all).

If magic is used as a tool to help your fictional world, how is this done? Is it like engineering, say, when it is used to fix specific problems or develop your society in some way? Is the development to the benefit of all or a mere elite? Can anyone study magic or do you have to be from the right background? How does magic affect the lives of the majority or does it pass them by?

Hope you find some interesting story ideas there.

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Story Changes

Facebook – General

Can a story change you? Yes. My view of Richard III was changed by Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time. I discovered the wonder of irony in fiction thanks to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

And this doesn’t just apply to books either. One of my favourite Doctor Who episodes is the Matt Smith one about Vincent Van Gogh. Beautifully done – and one of those Who stories you wish was true. Do check it out. I see there’s a thread elsewhere on FB today on this, which is what brought this topic to mind. The episode, Vincent, bears repeated viewing too and loses none of its emotional impact.

And, as ever, the impact of any story is all down to the character. They’ve got to be strong enough (even when they’re vulnerable and weak) to make us want to root for them.

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What do I like most about writing non-fiction such as my CFT posts?

It’s the creativity involved in it. Okay that creativity is based on research but I still need to present my posts in ways I hope will be entertaining to others. It’s a different challenge to fiction where I’ve got to make up characters that will hopefully convince readers these people are “real enough” for them to want to read on to find out what happens to them.

I like the mix of writing here. Keeps me on my toes and I’m never short of things to write!

Sent off my competition entry yesterday. It’s so nice being able to submit work online. I am from the days when everything had to go via the post and I can’t imagine the amount of post and time I’m saving in being able to send things in electronically now!

Where the post is still wonderful is when you receive your copies of your book through your door! Nothing beats that feeling. There, delivery online doesn’t have quite the same feel about it!

Am working on non-fiction projects and my next flash fiction collection so plenty to keep me occupied. My CFT post will be looking at playing with words and form. More on that later in the week.

What is it about your characters you like the most? For me it’s all about their approach to life. I’ve always had a soft spot for those awkward characters who will question authority, point out its faults, do something to rectify said faults, and land in trouble as a result. (They always do land in trouble).

I also love the characters that never give up, no matter what, and the ones determined to prove themselves. Fairytales are full of these kinds of characters and rightly so. They can be inspiring. (Sometimes they can act as a warning!).

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

One useful way to reduce word count for your flash fiction is to use words with more than one meaning. Readers then pick up the meaning you want to use from the context of the rest of the story.

For example, the word “muppet” can be used as an insult as in ‘Oi, you muppet” or it can be used as a reference to Jim Henson’s wonderful creations, as in “my favourite muppet was Miss Piggy”. (Still is incidentally!).

A good double meaning word will lend itself to puns which can be great ways to end a story too.

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I love funny flash fiction as it makes its impact quickly and generates a good belly laugh as an instinctive reaction. Mind, that’s the kind of instinctive reaction you want!

The impact is nearly always down to the closing line and the challenge is to come up with a powerful punch to end the story.

But a lot of fun can be had in setting up an oddball situation and letting the humour come out of that. (The advantage here is the humour won’t feel forced. It really will arise naturally).

I loved choosing the music for the book trailer for From Light to Dark and Back Again. I went for Danse Macabre, which was also used as the theme to Jonathan Creek. Danse Macabre is quirky music, which suits my stories well, but I try not to be influenced by music while I write.

I’ve found classical just relaxes me. Rock and pop can and has affected my mood while writing. It’s difficult, I think, to write a tender love scene, say, when you’ve got Highway to Hell blasting out on the radio. (Good image though, yes?!).

So I think I’ll stick to Beethoven’s 5th or the 1812 Overture when I want something really loud that won’t affect what I write!

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Some of the most recent writing prompts in my diary have included:-

1. Writing about a pancake being tossed.

2. Writing about a spring flower (picture provided!).

3. Writing a description of Persephone leaving the underworld.

4. Writing about Demeter’s feelings as she watches Persephone return to the underworld.

And coming up soon will be the challenges to write about:-

1. An Easter egg hunt

2. Using a Shakespeare quote to get started on a piece.

3. Listing words describing a train journey and using all of the senses.

4. Listing favourite foods and using all the senses to describe preparing and eating them.

I’ve really enjoyed the prompts I’ve written to so far and looking forward to the others. What I like best is the real mix. And there’s nothing to stop you using your own photos to spark ideas here. The important thing is to have fun here!

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Goodreads Author BlogTitles

How important is a story title to you?

I have mixed feelings on this one. With my reader’s hat on, a good title will draw me in but it generally isn’t what makes me buy the book. That is down to whether I like the blurb and opening paragraph.

Sometimes it’s down to whether I’ve read the author before and know I am likely to enjoy the new one (though I always check the blurb and opening paragraph out.).

With my writer’s hat on, I’m looking for titles which will convey the mood of my story and draw readers in. This is particularly useful for my genre, flash fiction, where every word has to “punch its weight”. A good title here can save a lot of words in the overall count and let your readers know what to expect.

When writing, I usually start with the title as I need a peg to hang the story from but I have changed titles as and when I need to, given sometimes a better one comes to me as I write. I just need a starting point.

When reading, if a title is really good, by the end of the story it will be apparent as to how well it suits the tale. You won’t be able to imagine a better or different one. When a writer feels like that about their title, they’ve got the job done!

Oh and this applies to non-fiction books and articles just as much as fiction.




















Reviews and Favourite Stories

Facebook – General – Reviewing

One of the problems with any kind of review is that you can’t take the personal taste of the reviewer out of it! Now that, of course, can make for some great reviews when the reviewer (a) acknowledges that and (b) gives a fair assessment whether or not they love whatever it is they are reviewing.

My policy here is to never review anything unless there is a good chance I am going to like at least something about the production or the book in question. I’ve never seen the point of “hatchet jobs” in reviews when it is clearly the reviewer’s personal taste clashing with whatever it is they’ve gone to see or have read.

As a writer myself, I have every sympathy for the hours and hours of work put in by the writers, actors etc only for them to receive said hatchet job. Why bother doing that? Simply say why the production or book didn’t work for you and leave it at that. That way at least the reviewer is merely being honest and readers can decide whether or not they are likely to agree and so either go and see the play/read the book or not, as the case may be.

Image Credit:  General images are from Pixabay, images of books I’ve appeared in or have written are obviously by  me.

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Facebook – General – Favourite Stories

Do you have a favourite story?

I think the nearest I come to this is the Cinderella one as, not only is it a great fairytale, my take on it was my first story in print (A Helping Hand in Bridge House Publishing’s Alternative Renditions). I tell the story from the youngest ugly sister’s viewpoint. The anthology comprises fairytales told from the viewpoint of minor characters in those tales and is good fun.

So the story has special meaning for me on those grounds and because I love the idea of injustice being put right (even if it does take a fairy godmother, some rats, and a pumpkin!).

What I read is dependent on my mood. I tend to read a lot in a genre for a while, then go on to another one, read a lot in that and so on. Of course, what matters most of all is to read widely and frequently. I see it as “topping up” my love of stories and books and that is necessary to help me write my own.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I’m preparing a talk on flash fiction, which I hope to use at an event later this month (and adapt for future events too!). More details on the event concerned when I have them but my talk looks at what flash fiction is and the benefits to readers and writers alike.

When preparing something like this, I focus on what would most likely be of interest to the potential audience. In most book and literary events, there is likely to be a mixture of readers and fellow writers. The nice thing is all writers should be able to wear the “reader’s hat” as well as obviously wearing the writer’s one and so pitching the talk, and working out what both are likely to be interested in, is easier to do.

Both reader and writer are interested in the process of producing a story, albeit from different angles. Both are interested in the inspiration behind the stories, though the writer wants to know how to take that inspiration and use it to produce something unique to themselves. Both reader and writer are looking for connections.

In the case of a reader, you are pointing them in the direction of reading your story if they haven’t done so already. If they have, you, as the writer, are generally looking for feedback. What worked well? What was less good/effective? In the case of another writer, they are looking for tips to help them improve their own writing and learn from you what lessons YOU learned the hard way so they don’t have to! Be fair though. You will do this yourself every time you go to another author’s talk!

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again Part 2

The art to a great flash story
Be it sad, funny or gory
Is having no word out of place.
It also grips you and its pace
Is apt for the allegory.
(Allison Symes 2017)

Okay, the Poet Laureate’s job is definitely not threatened by me, but the above does sum up flash fiction reasonably well.

I’ve used nursery rhymes (Hickory Dickory Dock) as a basis for my tales (Telling the Time), as well as fairytales told from the viewpoint of other characters.

I’m looking for what impact my flash fiction will have on a reader and I like my characters to justify their stance. It doesn’t mean that they’re right but you should be able to see into their mind and understand why they act the way they do and/or live the way that they are. It is a question of looking out from where they are, as opposed to where I am. I write more effectively for the characters if I can do that.

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Comic Fiction and Stories told in Letter Form

Facebook – General

Comic fiction is amongst the hardest things to write, given humour is subjective. My late mother had very wide tastes in books (think H.G. Wells to Dickens to Shakespeare to Jane Austen to Daphne Du Maurier to name a few). Her one blind spot was humorous prose. No time for it at all, though she did have a good sense of humour (and loved Morecambe and Wise amongst others).

Humour doesn’t always work well in text. You sometimes need to be able to read someone’s body language so that you know they are joking. Subtle humour can sometimes be too subtle for the joke to really work. I’ve always found the best humour in fiction has been either through a character that is generally funny in and of themselves or through a funny situation, which is well set up and acted on.

In From Light to Dark and Back Again I’ve tended to use humorous situations and I also like to give my characters a good sense of irony. They may not pick that up but the reader will. Sometimes the best humour is the unconscious kind!


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Facebook – General Part 2

What is the point of any short story? To make a specific point and show how the characters reached where they are, and what they are going to do about it. A short story can cover those changes of attitude or incidents, which would suit the form well, but not that of a novel. Less is definitely more in this case!

I have a distrust of padding out a story in any case. You should have enough material to draw on to write a story without any padding. It may be that what might look like a short story idea is really just an incident (you could think of turning it into a flash fiction piece.). Equally think the idea out more, brainstorm, even put the whole thing aside for a bit until you DO have a strong enough idea, you easily have enough material for it.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

My favourite form of flash fiction are those stories which leave a definite impact on the reader. Doesn’t have to be a happy ever after kind of story but one where there is a clear resolution to the problem set up at the beginning of the piece.

Of course with flash that impact is very sharp because there isn’t a lot of room in which to deliver it. Yet the impact mustn’t feel forced, must arise naturally out of the situation the story has created, and be appropriate to that tale.

Ernest Hemingway’s famous example of For Sale One Pair Baby Shoes has everything, Your emotional reaction to that story can be one of horror, sadness, or matter of fact acceptance. A lot will depend on your own outlook on life. (It can also be positive – the baby had LOADS of shoes, quickly outgrew them and so didn’t need this pair).

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again Part 2

Technically a flash fiction piece is anything under 1000 words, though I think anything on the upper limit mark is really a short story. (Just a shorter one than the norm for competitions!).

The advantage of the 500-word and 750-word flash fiction tales is I can go into a little more detail, give a bit more depth into the character but literally about as half as much as I would do for a standard length short story (1500 words).

In Punish the Innocent and You Never Know, I use the longer version of the flash fiction I write to tell the stories in a letter format from the main character. It is one of those areas where I don’t think the main character would write 50 or 75 or 100 words. They would write more. In Punish the Innocent, the main character is a mother writing to her daughter. In You Never Know I don’t name the recipient but it is clear it is someone the main character knows well.

The great advantage of “letter” stories is the way in which they are written tells you so much about the character (and their mood!) when “they wrote it”. You can save on word count here. When a letter writer is irritated by someone, you know at once the recipient has to be someone they know well. You usually write fairly politely to strangers! Well I do…

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